If you couldn’t access the support, local schools or transport you needed, who would you turn to for help?
For many people with disability in Victoria, it is advocates.
Advocates provide vital assistance in such situations, ensuring people’s voices are heard and their rights are respected.
Independent disability advocacy empowers people with disability, and their families and carers, to understand their human and legal rights, communicate their needs, and have their needs met. It involves acting, speaking or writing to promote, protect and defend the human rights of people with disability. It is also an important safeguard to help prevent and report abuse.
Assistance finding safe housing
Abigail* had a one-month-old child with a disability. Their rental property developed mould and rodent issues, which could adversely affect her child’s lung health. Abigail wished to move out of the property to reduce her child’s health risk, but faced a fee for breaking the lease agreement. This was difficult to pay as Abigail’s family lives on a low income.
Abigail approached an advocate for assistance. The advocate wrote a letter to the landlord explaining the child’s disability and why the family needed to move for health reasons. They requested the landlord did not proceed with penalising Abigail for breaking the lease agreement.
The landlord agreed and the family was able to move to a new rental property without the additional financial burden of the fee for breaking a lease agreement.
*names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals
The Victorian Government has recognised the important role of advocates since the 1980s, and currently provides funding to more than 20 organisations across the state to support around 1,700 people each year. However more than 1 million Victorians have disabilities, which means many people are missing out on the advocacy support that would help them express their needs and have these needs met.
On top of this, the advocacy sector is under increasing pressure with the introduction of the NDIS and other changes to disability services. Demand for advocacy services increased by 70 per cent in 2014-15 and 2015-16 compared with the previous two years, and requests for assistance with legal issues more than doubled over this four year period.
To ensure Victorians with disability have their voices heard, the Victorian Government should match the per capita funding provided by the Commonwealth, as recommended by the Productivity Commission. This would take the Victorian Government’s contribution from $2.9 million to $5.1 million per year and would allow advocates to work with many more people.
Not only would increasing funding for disability advocacy make sense because it upholds people’s rights, it also makes economic sense.
Analysis in 2017 found disability advocacy saves government $3.50 for every dollar invested, as the cost savings that could be made in many public systems (including education, health, justice and child protection) outweigh the costs of funding advocacy organisations. This would equate to a net benefit of around $600 million to Australia over 10 years.
By increasing disability advocacy funding to the recommended amount, the Victorian Government could build on the commitment it made to advocacy in its Absolutely Everyone: State Disability Plan 2017-2020 and show it understands the critical role advocacy plays in protecting the rights of Victorians with disability.